WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Lawmakers are rethinking the future of SNAP food assistance after the program saw a surge in participants during the pandemic.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said as some pandemic-era rules expire, lawmakers must now focus on expanding access to those in need.

“It uplifted over 2 million people above the poverty line,” she said.

Stacy Dean, who oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at the Department of Agriculture, said changes allowing families to shop with SNAP online or at farmers markets were helpful.

“We’ve learned about a different way of doing things,” Dean said.

Republicans argue some new changes, like a recent 21% hike in monthly payments, come at too steep a price for tax payers.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, say they’re concerned the program is being abused in some states where unemployed, able-bodied adults without kids can still get aid.

“The pandemic cannot be used as an excuse,” Grassley said. 

“We do have to maintain program integrity,” Ernst said.

Dean said the flexibility ends in May. She asked lawmakers not to push cuts.

“Because we know how many families are really living on the edge,” Dean said.

Right now, Republicans are searching for ways to reduce the nation’s spending. But Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Miss., said SNAP should not be on the chopping block.

“That’s a program that really helps working people,” he said.